The latest edition of Imprimis, a monthly publication of conservative commentary that Hillsdale College distributes to 3.8 million people, praises President Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policies and portrays racial and ethnic diversity not as a national strength, but rather as a source of division, an enemy of the common good, and “a solvent that dissolves the unity and cohesiveness of a nation.”
Last week, Conor Friedersdorf asked in The Atlantic whether Hillsdale, which nurtures its reputation as a bastion of conservative Christian values, is “losing its soul” due to President Larry Arnn’s lavish praise for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. The July/August Imprimis suggests an answer.
Written by Edward Erler, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, the anti-immigration, anti-diversity screed was adapted from an April 2018 speech Erler gave at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar. Erler opens the essay with a splash: “President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy for illegal border crossers has provoked a hysterical reaction from Democrats, establishment Republicans, the progressive-liberal media, Hollywood radicals, and the deep state.”
As that line makes clear, the Imprimis article is less a thoughtful commentary on U.S. immigration policy, than a political tract with the tone of a rant by Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity. Erler uses the word “hysteria” a half-dozen times and denounces the “sheer insanity” of negative reaction to Trump’s policy.
Erler asks about the lack of attention for the “thousands of American children” he says are separated from their parents, many of them single mothers, who are convicted of crimes, leaving their infants to “become wards of the government until their mothers complete their sentences.” Complains Erle, “No hysteria or effusive compassion is elicited by these separations, confirming that the object of the hysteria surrounding illegal border crossers is to force open borders on the nation under the guise of compassion for children.”
Erler goes on at some length challenging the notion that Americans should see openness to diversity as a shared national value:
Progressive liberalism … insists that self-preservation and national security must be subordinate to openness and diversity. America’s immigration policies, we are told, should demonstrate our commitment to diversity because an important part of the American character is openness, and our commitment to diversity is an affirmation of “who we are as Americans.” If this carries a risk to our security, it is a small price to pay. Indeed, the willing assumption of risk adds authenticity to our commitment.
In support of all this, we are asked to believe something incredible: that the American character is defined only by its unlimited acceptance of diversity. … Our progressive politicians and opinion leaders proclaim their commitment to diversity almost daily, chanting the same refrain: “Diversity is our strength.” This is the gospel according to political correctness. But how does diversity strengthen us? Is it a force for unity and cohesiveness? Or is it a source of division and contention? Does it promote the common good and the friendship that rests at the heart of citizenship? Or does it promote racial and ethnic division and something resembling the tribalism that prevents most of the world from making constitutional government a success? When is the last time we heard anyone in Washington talk about the common good? We are used to hearing talk about the various stakeholders and group interests, but not much about what the nation has in common.
This should not be surprising. Greater diversity means inevitably that we have less in common, and the more we encourage diversity the less we honor the common good. Any honest and clear-sighted observer should be able to see that diversity is a solvent that dissolves the unity and cohesiveness of a nation—and we should not be deceived into believing that its proponents do not understand the full impact of their advocacy!
Along with diversity, Erler focuses on another target of right-wing pundits and President Trump: “political correctness.” Just before the 2016 election, Erler defended Trump’s attacks on Mexican-American Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and called Trump’s candidacy “almost certainly the last chance to stop political correctness, Progressive Liberalism’s ingenious, phenomenally successful invention for suppressing political dissent.” He returned to those themes in the April speech:
Diversity, of course, marches under the banner of tolerance, but is a bastion of intolerance. It enforces its ideological liberalism with an iron fist that is driven by political correctness, the most ingenious (and insidious) device for suppressing freedom of speech and political dissent ever invented.
Erler says political correctness “could have been stopped in its tracks over three decades ago” but that Republicans—specifically Ronald Reagan—choked and failed to eliminate affirmative action. Reagan is not the only Republican president Erler faults. “President George W. Bush, no less than President Obama, was an advocate of a ‘borderless world,’” Erler says. Today, he says, Republicans are quick to surrender when accused of racism, sexism, homophobia, or Islamophobia:
Republicans have rendered themselves defenseless against political correctness, and the establishment wing of the party doesn’t seem overly concerned, as they frequently join the chorus of Democrats in denouncing Trump’s violations of political correctness. Only President Trump seems undeterred by the tyrannous threat that rests at the core of political correctness.
Going back a bit further into history, Erler spares a few kind words for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, though he complains both were misused. But he has nothing good to say for that decade’s landmark immigration law, which he portrays as an effort to make middle-class white people, who were a “constant roadblock to the administrative state,” into a minority, when “they would be powerless to resist”:
The Immigration Act of 1965 was a kind of affirmative action plan to provide remedies for those races or ethnic groups that had been discriminated against in the past. Caucasian immigrants from European nations had been given preference in past years; now it was time to diversify the immigrant population by changing the focus to Third World nations, primarily nations in Latin America and Asia. The goal, as some scholars have slowly come to realize, was to diversify the demographic composition of the American population from majority white to a majority of people of color. There was also some anticipation that those coming from these Third World countries were more likely to need the ministrations of the welfare state and therefore more likely to be captured by the Democratic Party, the party promoting the welfare state.
Erler mocks court rulings against Trump’s Muslim-targeted travel ban, as well as the dissenters from the Supreme Court’s approval of the ban. Says Erler, “in the minds of the dissenters, psychoanalysis of Trump’s motives held greater constitutional significance than the intent of the law expressed in its plain language.”
In support of his thesis that Congress can and should eliminate birthright citizenship—an argument he has also made in the pages of National Review—Erler wades into the history of English common law and the difference between subjects and citizens, arguing that when the Declaration of Independence proclaimed Americans “are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown,” it was a rejection of the common law as applied to citizenship. “Consent—not the accident of birth—is the basis for American citizenship,” he says.
The American people can, of course, consent to allow others to join the compact that created the American nation, but they have the sovereign right to specify the terms and conditions for granting entry and the qualifications for citizenship. Presumably the qualifications for entry and naturalization will be whether those who wish to enter demonstrate a capacity to adopt the habits, manners, independence, and self-reliance of republican citizens and devotion to the principles that unite the American people. Furthermore, it would be unreasonable not to expect that potential immigrants should possess useful skills that will ensure that they will not become victims of the welfare state.
Immigration policies, he says, “should not be viewed as acts of charity to the world.”